2022 NHL Playoffs: B/R Staff 2nd-Round Predictions
And then there were eight.
After a drama-filled first round featuring five Game 7s, we move on to the second round featuring some intriguing matchups.
The Rangers survived a 3-1 deficit in the first round to eke out a series victory against the Penguins. Will they be able to pull off a similar feat against the Hurricanes, who dominated on home ice against the Bruins in Round 1?
The two-time defending champion Lightning played an intense, physical series against the Maple Leafs and won on the road in Toronto to advance to the second round. A new challenge awaits them, as the Presidents' Trophy-winning Florida Panthers look to avenge last year's loss in the playoffs to the Bolts.
In the Western Conference, we have another rematch from last postseason as the Avalanche and Blues take the ice against each other. Fresh off a sweep of the Predators, will the Avs continue their dominant run against St. Louis?
Finally, the Battle of Alberta is about to commence as both the Flames and Oilers tussle for provincial bragging rights.
Our B/R NHL Staff got together to provide their picks for the second round.
Disagree with our experts? Give us your picks in the comments below!
Eastern Conference: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers
For a second-straight season, we are fortunate enough to see a Battle of Florida.
Last year's version, the first in NHL history, did not disappoint. An inexperienced Florida Panthers team played the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning and pushed them hard. Goaltending tilted an otherwise even series, though, as Tampa Bay won the series four games to two.
In the first round, the Lightning went up against the Toronto Maple Leafs as underdogs and played an incredible series. Unlike years past, this was not a Toronto choke job. The Leafs were tremendous, but the Lightning demonstrated their championship mettle in seven grueling games. Of all their trials and tribulations through two Cup wins, this might have been their most difficult series yet.
Meanwhile, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Panthers at times struggled in their first-round matchup against the Washington Capitals. That it went six games, some of them extremely close, was somewhat unexpected, and it's not as if the Caps' goaltenders stood on their heads. The Panthers finished the series with only 48.1% of the expected goals (per Evolving Hockey). Their talent alone was enough to get them over the hump. That won't be the case against Tampa Bay.
For all of the stars on this roster—Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad among them—the best player on the ice against the Capitals was Carter Verhaeghe. His six goals and six assists put him second to McDavid in the playoffs, and beyond that, he's one of the best drivers of play in the league. In the quarterfinals and beyond, every team has elite talent. It's the secondary contributors like Verhaeghe that separate the good teams from the great.
If there's an area Tampa Bay might exploit, it's the Panthers' defense. Ben Chiarot was easily their worst defenseman despite the heavy price they paid at the deadline to acquire him. Brandon Montour and Radko Gudas were also fairly mediocre.
But the same is true in Tampa Bay. Cal Foote and Jan Rutta struggling aren't unexpected, but the Lightning need much more from Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak, who were crucial to both Cup wins. Both will have to step up big time, or else Florida's four-line depth is going to feast.
This is a close series in which the Panthers might have had a slight edge regardless, but the condition of Brayden Point is a massive blow to the Lightning's hopes. The All-Star center suffered what appears to be a significant injury in Game 7 against Toronto and is doubtful for Game 1.
If he returns at any point in the series, he probably won't be anywhere close to full strength. If the Lightning pull this off—and they could—it will probably come down to their experience managing tough series and the elevated play of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy in critical moments. Otherwise, the bid for a three-peat will be coming to an end.
Prediction: Panthers in seven
- Adam Herman
Eastern Conference: New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
The New York Rangers proved to be one tough out. They came back in three elimination games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round and took them to overtime in Game 7.
Igor Shesterkin returned to his regular-season form in Game 7 and looks sharp going into a second-round series with the Carolina Hurricanes. This isn't just a team with one dominant line. The Rangers' "Kid Line" of Alexis Lafreniere, Filip Chytil and Kaapo Kakko showed how impactful they could be in the series. When Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin's lines shut down the top two, New York's third line generated offense and energy.
That top line did still generate, with Mika Zibanejad putting up 11 points in seven games, including three in Game 7—one of which was the game-tying goal that forced overtime.
But the key for the Rangers is special teams. The five-on-five woes that plagued the team throughout the season returned in the playoffs, and the six power-play goals and two shorthanded goals proved to be crucial.
However, Carolina had the best penalty kill in the NHL during the regular season. The Penguins had the third-best and the Rangers still managed to crack it, but this is a deeper, stronger team than Pittsburgh.
The Hurricanes are a high shot-volume team at five-on-five, and the Rangers were bleeding chances in the defensive zone throughout the last series. During Game 7 in particular, they left Jake Guentzel by himself on the doorstep twice. He converted once to score his eighth goal of the series.
The Hurricanes shoot often and early to create screens, tips and rebounds, and they forecheck hard.
Goaltending will be an important storyline. Shesterkin looked out of sorts throughout much of the series against Pittsburgh, and he was replaced by Alexandar Georgiev in Game 3. The Hurricanes are still without Frederik Andersen and using veteran backup Antti Raanta.
Plus, Carolina is littered with ex-Blueshirts. Brady Skjei, Jesper Fast, Tony DeAngelo and Raanta have all been great additions to the Canes.
Prediction: Hurricanes in six
- Abbey Mastracco
Western Conference: St. Louis Blues vs. Colorado Avalanche
This series between the Colorado Avalanche and St. Louis Blues features one team with Stanley Cup aspirations against another that knows what it takes to win it all. It's the second straight year the two have faced off in playoff competition, with the Avs sweeping the Blues from the first round of the 2021 playoffs.
The Avalanche dominated the Western Conference with 119 points this season. Loaded with talented forwards such as Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Nazem Kadri as well as superstar defenseman Cale Makar, they're determined to finally play up to expectations as serious Cup contenders.
Stanley Cup champions in 2019, the Blues are powered by veterans such as Vladimir Tarasenko, David Perron and Ryan O'Reilly as well as rising stars Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas. They finished 10 points behind Colorado in the standings, but their 3.77 goals-per-game average was a smidgen ahead of the Avs' 3.76.
The Avalanche lead all playoff clubs in goals per game (5.25), but they feasted on the lightweight Nashville Predators in the first round. They have seven players with 20 or more goals this season but rely heavily on MacKinnon, Makar and Rantanen for the bulk of their production.
Lacking the Avs' superstar power, the Blues spread their offense more evenly throughout their roster in the regular season with nine 20-goal scorers. Their goals per game following the opening round was a solid 3.67 against a determined Minnesota Wild club.
Goaltending will be an intriguing factor in this series. Avalanche starter Darcy Kuemper returns to action after suffering an eye injury in Game 3 of their first-round series with the Predators. The Blues, meanwhile, started their opening-round series with Ville Husso between the pipes but turned to veteran Jordan Binnington for the final two games.
This should be an entertaining matchup between two teams packing plenty of scoring punch. While the Blues have Stanley Cup experience, the Avalanche are hungry for a championship run. With Kuemper back healthy, they should have an edge in the crease to put them over the top.
Prediction: Avalanche in six
- Lyle Richardson
Western Conference: Edmonton Oilers vs. Calgary Flames
Ask Wayne Gretzky. Or Mark Messier and Grant Fuhr.
In fact, go ahead and ask anyone connected with the Edmonton Oilers' glory days about their biggest nemesis, and they'll more than likely reply in unison:
The Calgary %#$%#%# Flames.
Indeed, the "Battle of Alberta" was the gold standard of NHL postseason rivalries in the 1980s and early '90s, featuring five series from 1983 to 1991 that yielded countless highlights, three epic seven-game marathons and a permanent place in the minds of all who experienced it.
But just as suddenly as it gained traction, it went away.
Soon after Esa Tikkanen scored in overtime to end Game 7 of the Smythe Division Semifinals in 1991, the Oilers plunged into a generation of prime-time irrelevance that yielded just a handful of springtime appearances across the subsequent 23 seasons before Connor McDavid's selection at the 2015 draft.
They've now reached the playoffs four times in his seven years in a No. 97 uniform, but Wednesday's opener of the Pacific final will be the first time the teams have met with postseason progress on the line in 11,355 days. Edmonton won four of the five previous series but had its run of four Stanley Cups in five years interrupted by the Flames in a classic seven-gamer in 1986.
Precisely seven of the players on the current Calgary roster were alive for that last Oilers-Flames playoff game on April 16, 1991, with the oldest, center Trevor Lewis, having just turned four. Same goes for Edmonton, which has eight players of similar vintage led by starting goaltender Mike Smith, who was then a few weeks past birthday No. 9.
Now 40 and one of few NHLers who has played for both franchises, Smith could be the single most important player in determining who wins edition No. 6 and reaches the Western Conference Final against Colorado or St. Louis. He played every minute of the Oilers' seven-game defeat of the Los Angeles Kings in Round 1, shaking off a possession error in the opener to win four of the next six—including two shutouts—while posting goals-against (2.29) and save percentage (.938) marks that were good for sixth and fifth in the league.
Still, he was outdone on both counts by the Flames' Jacob Markstrom, who surrendered a stingy 1.53 goals per game while stopping better than 94 percent of the shots in his direction—including 26 saves in the Game 7 defeat of the Dallas Stars on Sunday night.
The margin for error is likely to remain that thin between teams that split four regular-season games, with each winning twice at home with nearly identical (Oilers 16, Flames 17) goal totals. In fact, Edmonton and Calgary shared status as the league's best teams from February 11 to the end of the season, with each picking up 55 points in 38 games down the stretch.
Which begs the question: Who'll be the hero in late May?
Will McDavid, now buoyed by a long-delayed first-round victory, continue the dominance that saw him produce 14 points in seven games against the Kings? Will Johnny Gaudreau continue the career year—which spiked with the Game 7 OT winner against Dallas—as he prepares for a free-agent windfall?
Or will it be another player—Edmonton's Evander Kane or Calgary's Matthew Tkachuk perhaps—who puts a decisive stamp on the renewal of hostilities between the league's northernmost teams?
Roll the dice. Shoot the dart. Flip the coin. Hold your breath.
Prediction: Oilers in six
- Lyle Fitzsimmons